How to help improve your team’s mental health How to help improve your team’s mental health

How to help improve your team’s mental health
17 May 2018

The UK’s national Mental Health Awareness Week (14-20 May) is attempting to shine a spotlight on stress this year. With one in six adults experiencing depression, anxiety or stress at any one time, it is becoming increasingly important for employers in general, and line managers in particular, to recognise the signs that their teams may be under too much pressure.

Over the last few years, much progress has been made towards improving mental health awareness across society, including in the workplace. But according to a survey we conducted with the Mental Health Foundation, a mere 14% of employees are comfortable in speaking to their manager about stress-related issues. So clearly there is more work to be done in translating this increased awareness into action.

However, managers can play a pivotal role in addressing the stigma around mental health at work. For example, they can build trusting and trusted relationships with employees, thereby helping them to feel more confident and supported when talking about difficult topics.

What is stress?

Stress is the body’s natural response on sensing danger. We all experience it and actually need to do so in order to function. Healthy amounts of it can actually act as a motivator at work.

But when we feel too stressed, it can interfere with our lives and become a problem. In fact, too much stress for too long can make us ill. If not addressed, it can contribute to mental health issues such as depression or anxiety and also harm our physical health. Last year, a huge 12.5 million working days were lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety.

So here is a step-by-step guide to help you tackle this thorny issue:

  1. Start with the basics

Mental and physical health are connected. A healthy, balanced diet and regular physical activity are some of the key foundations of good mental health. Exercise releases endorphins, while eating well and avoiding too much sugar and caffeine helps to reduce stress.

There are a number of simple ways that payroll managers can encourage their teams to embed such considerations into their daily routine. Providing fresh fruit at team catch-up meetings or even introducing some physical activity by hosting walking meetings can all play their part.

  1. Encourage discussion and model positive behaviour

Leading from the front and talking about the importance of good mental health helps to create transparency around the issue. Crucially, it also gives employees confidence that their wellbeing is being taken seriously, and that it is acceptable to discuss mental health issues at work.

However, the Mental Health Foundation research reveals that almost one in ten employees (9%) feel unable to admit that stress is the real reason for being absent from work. This scenario highlights that work still needs to be done on breaking down the stigma associated with mental ill health.

Payroll managers can make a big difference though by promoting conversations about mental health within their teams. Sharing their own experiences of how they manage stress, and demonstrating healthy behaviours such as leaving work on time or taking regular breaks, do have a definite impact. Most employees work closely with their managers on a daily basis and generally look to them to set an example of how to behave.

3. Learn to spot the signs

Managers have a unique role in ensuring that employees receive enough support to overcome their stress-related challenges. Many employees will not speak out if they are under too much pressure, so it is important for managers to recognise the signs that someone may be struggling and know how to offer support. You do not have to be an expert – just the basics will do.

The most obvious symptoms of stress include irritability or tearfulness, but more subtle signs comprise an individual experiencing loss of confidence or feeling repeatedly unwell. As a result, opening up regular conversations around wellbeing is vital. It is also important to check in regularly with members of your team, even if it is just a five-minute chat asking how they are. Taking the time to do so could make all the difference in helping someone to open up about their problems.

4. Tackle ‘always on’ mentalities

The pressure of an ‘always on’ environment can generate a lot of stress. Our research reveals that just under a third of people (32%) worry about work even when they are no longer in the office. All too many also slip into bad habits such as checking emails late at night and over the weekend. 

Reminding staff to take a break and encouraging them to switch off from work can help combat presenteeism and ensure they are more energised and motivated during working hours. Some employers go even further and prohibit employees from eating lunch at their desks or sending emails out of working hours.

While it is ultimately up to each organisation whether they set rules these kind of rules or not, managers can also play a critical role in nudging staff to adopt healthier behaviours and prevent problems from arising in the first place.

 Jaan Madan

Jaan Madan is workplace lead at Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England CIC and engages with workplaces across a broad range of sectors. Jaan has worked at MHFA England for more than a decade, first training as an instructor in 2009 before going on to become a member of its National Training team, a body of expert trainers responsible for teaching and mentoring new instructors.

The UK’s national Mental Health Awareness Week (14-20 May) is attempting to shine a spotlight on stress this year. With one in six adults experiencing depression, anxiety or stress at any one time, it is becoming increasingly important for employers in general, and line managers in particular, to recognise the signs that their teams may be under too much pressure.

Over the last few years, much progress has been made towards improving mental health awareness across society, including in the workplace. But according to a survey we conducted with the Mental Health Foundation, a mere 14% of employees are comfortable in speaking to their manager about stress-related issues. So clearly there is more work to be done in translating this increased awareness into action.

However, managers can play a pivotal role in addressing the stigma around mental health at work. For example, they can build trusting and trusted relationships with employees, thereby helping them to feel more confident and supported when talking about difficult topics.

What is stress?

Stress is the body’s natural response on sensing danger. We all experience it and actually need to do so in order to function. Healthy amounts of it can actually act as a motivator at work.

But when we feel too stressed, it can interfere with our lives and become a problem. In fact, too much stress for too long can make us ill. If not addressed, it can contribute to mental health issues such as depression or anxiety and also harm our physical health. Last year, a huge 12.5 million working days were lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety.

So here is a step-by-step guide to help you tackle this thorny issue:

  1. Start with the basics

Mental and physical health are connected. A healthy, balanced diet and regular physical activity are some of the key foundations of good mental health. Exercise releases endorphins, while eating well and avoiding too much sugar and caffeine helps to reduce stress.

There are a number of simple ways that payroll managers can encourage their teams to embed such considerations into their daily routine. Providing fresh fruit at team catch-up meetings or even introducing some physical activity by hosting walking meetings can all play their part.

  1. Encourage discussion and model positive behaviour

Leading from the front and talking about the importance of good mental health helps to create transparency around the issue. Crucially, it also gives employees confidence that their wellbeing is being taken seriously, and that it is acceptable to discuss mental health issues at work.

However, the Mental Health Foundation research reveals that almost one in ten employees (9%) feel unable to admit that stress is the real reason for being absent from work. This scenario highlights that work still needs to be done on breaking down the stigma associated with mental ill health.

Payroll managers can make a big difference though by promoting conversations about mental health within their teams. Sharing their own experiences of how they manage stress, and demonstrating healthy behaviours such as leaving work on time or taking regular breaks, do have a definite impact. Most employees work closely with their managers on a daily basis and generally look to them to set an example of how to behave.

3. Learn to spot the signs

Managers have a unique role in ensuring that employees receive enough support to overcome their stress-related challenges. Many employees will not speak out if they are under too much pressure, so it is important for managers to recognise the signs that someone may be struggling and know how to offer support. You do not have to be an expert – just the basics will do.

The most obvious symptoms of stress include irritability or tearfulness, but more subtle signs comprise an individual experiencing loss of confidence or feeling repeatedly unwell. As a result, opening up regular conversations around wellbeing is vital. It is also important to check in regularly with members of your team, even if it is just a five-minute chat asking how they are. Taking the time to do so could make all the difference in helping someone to open up about their problems.

4. Tackle ‘always on’ mentalities

The pressure of an ‘always on’ environment can generate a lot of stress. Our research reveals that just under a third of people (32%) worry about work even when they are no longer in the office. All too many also slip into bad habits such as checking emails late at night and over the weekend. 

Reminding staff to take a break and encouraging them to switch off from work can help combat presenteeism and ensure they are more energised and motivated during working hours. Some employers go even further and prohibit employees from eating lunch at their desks or sending emails out of working hours.

While it is ultimately up to each organisation whether they set rules these kind of rules or not, managers can also play a critical role in nudging staff to adopt healthier behaviours and prevent problems from arising in the first place.

 Jaan Madan

Jaan Madan is workplace lead at Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England CIC and engages with workplaces across a broad range of sectors. Jaan has worked at MHFA England for more than a decade, first training as an instructor in 2009 before going on to become a member of its National Training team, a body of expert trainers responsible for teaching and mentoring new instructors.